The final cross-country Vans Warped Tour has come and gone. The pop-punk circus has folded up its safety-pinned, patch-covered tent and skipped town. And to that movable feast of fishbowl drinks and crunchy riffs, that spreading cesspool of acne and herpes and eighth-grade record collections, I have one last song request to shout at your backs: “Good Riddance.”
You can say the Warped Tour is not for you and you’re right. I’m not a freshman in high school anymore. I don’t begrudge anyone for liking mall punk, pop punk, punk so sugary it’ll give your gauged ear cavities. Judging by the large and hyped crowd at this year’s fest, there are clearly a lot of folks who live for this music. And that’s fine: I’m not one to rain on anybody’s black parade.
But here’s the thing: For the people who do like this kind of music, they deserve better than the Warped Tour.
I went to last year’s Warped Tour over at the Fear Farm grounds. This year’s fest was a slight improvement, thanks to the location change to Ak-Chin Pavilion. The punishing heat at last year’s fest, on open grounds that offered nothing in the way of shade structures, drove concert attendees to dive under security scaffolding to get their hands on some sweet, sweet shade.
Like previous iterations of the fest, there were multiple stages scattered around the pavilion. The Left Foot stage was on Ak-Chin’s main stage. With plenty of general admission seating, a roof over our heads, and a bunch of those giant fans you see at Costco keeping us cool, it made watching shows at the fest bearable. You didn’t get that “my brain is a fried egg sizzling in my skull” feeling that was ever-present at Warped Tour 2017.
So long as you stayed at the Left Foot stage, shit was golden. Visiting the other stages, though — that was when things got hellacious.
All the other stages, merch booths, and grub spots were set up in the pavilion’s parking lot. The parking lot drank up the sun and spat it back at us. Walking from stage to stage felt like doing a low-key fire walk.
I get why Warped Tour passes through in the summer. Most of their target audience still goes to school, so they want to catch them while they’re on summer vacation. In most other states, that’s a solid strategy. In Arizona, that’s a good way to give a few thousand people melanoma.
Speaking of all those people: I should emphasize that I’m probably a minority voice howling in the wilderness here. It seemed like most folks were having a blast. And maybe I would have too, back when I was 16 and still willing to suffer any dumb indignity like racking up sunburns for a day straight to prove I was hardcore.
The venue was full for most of the fest. People were lining up in the morning, and a steady crowd filtered in and out of Ak-Chin throughout the day. Posters and signs lined poles and were pasted on the ground, letting folks know which bands were going on when. This was very helpful for Luddites like me who didn’t download the Warped Tour app ahead of time because the fest, unlike every other sane festival in existence, didn’t release any set times on their website. If you wanted to know who was going on when and where, you had to download the app. Which, pardon my French, is some lame-ass bullshit, mon ami.
Complaining about heat and logistics aside: How was the music? In short: Warped Tour was a great day for local sounds and a lousy day for everything else.
Local acts like Captain Squeegee and Doll Skin had distinct sounds and stage presences that made them stick out from the mold 80 percent of the bands at the fest were cast from. After seeing 10 or so bands with whiny white dudes with bad sleeves and orange shorts sing thirsty songs about chicks and try to pass off “WHO’S FUCKING READY TO ROCK MOTHERFUCKERS” as stage banter, I was desperate to see someone do something different. The loopy cosmonauts in Captain Squeegee blasting me in the face with horns, and Doll Skin’s take-no-shit lady fury blowing the crowd’s hair back, was the cure for what ailed me.
Authority Zero’s set inspired the audience to circle around the soundboard, which was probably the most striking spectacle on display at Warped Tour. It was certainly more enjoyable to watch than seeing the shirtless dudes crowd-killing during a raging Harm’s Way set. “Every time a high school girl almost gets kicked in the head, take a shot” is a drinking game that stops being fun pretty quickly.
Another group of hometown heroes, The Maine, wowed the crowd with a beguiling and anthemic performance. All those years spent in the studio and on the road were evident in their command of the stage and their instruments.
A lot of the touring groups blurred together, to the point that it was hard to tell some of the groups apart. I sat through back-to-back sets by Knuckle Puck and State Champs, and the only difference I could really pick up between them was that Knuckle Puck was using prerecorded backup vocals. At times, the singer's live voice would fall out of the mix and you could hear his digital doppelganger picking up the slack over the speakers.
I never thought I’d say this, but my favorite touring act was probably Twiztid. While I’m not a big fan of their music, their devotees were probably some of the most chill people at the fest. Aside from the Hare Krishnas that were wandering around the pavilion, the Juggalos were the nicest people I came across at Warped Tour. It’s hard not to admire people who are so devoted to their clown family that they’re willing to wear face paint and all-black gear in the middle of this scorching heat.
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July 28: Vans Warped Tour 2018 at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix.
The Crowd: Middle schoolers, high schoolers, sketchy dudes, scantily clad girls, bored cops, old-as-shit punk parents, drunks chugging fishbowls, unhelpful volunteers, and some dude in a Rancid shirt who was a dead ringer for Jim Halpert.
Overheard: “LEMONADE/LEMONADE/LIKE GRANMA MADE!” If food vendors working arenas had their own award show, the guy hawking lemonades and popcorn for the Left Foot crowd is a shoe-in to win a golden Vendie statue. Dude chanted that mantra over and over again with a big grin on his face, clearly savoring the rhyme scheme.
Random Notebook Dump: At one point in the day, some random high school doofus asked me if I had any extra ketchup packets on me. I wasn’t holding any food items at the time and he wasn’t either. I guess he was just assuming that as a fat dude I must have a full array of spare condiments on my person 24-7. Alas! I left my secret emergency stash of concert ketchup in my other pair of Chucks.